Editorial: Detour the Fall River detour
When discussing a proposal to alter a detour that sends tractor-trailer trucks through the heart of the city, Fall River officials should be asking just one question: What took so long?
Since two concrete panels fell onto I-195 from underneath Government Center — causing half a dozen vehicles to crash and their drivers to be injured — giant trucks carrying hazardous cargo have been banned from traveling through the "unprotected tunnel," instead being redirected through narrow city streets.
That was in 1999.
Since then, trucks have been detoured off 195 at Exit 5 onto Milliken Boulevard. They then travel onto Columbia Street, cross South Main and Rodman streets, and turn onto Plymouth Avenue before re-entering the highway.
Eight years have passed and apparently no one — until now, anyway — thought it might be a good idea to re-examine the wisdom of that detour.
City Councilor Thomas Kozak — growing frustrated with delays that have put construction at Government Center more than a year behind schedule — brought the situation up during a council meeting last week. The council voted to call together city police, fire and traffic departments, along with the Massachusetts Highway Department (responsible for the long-delayed construction and the traffic routing plan), to discuss altering the detour.
While keeping large vehicles off narrow, already congested city streets should be a no-brainer, Public Works Director Kenneth Pacheco expressed skepticism that MassHighway would consider a shift, calling it "very difficult." Pacheco said MassHighway conducts extensive studies and "usually does a pretty good job" determining the best detour routes.
Well, it certainly didn’t in this case. The only "very difficult" thing here will be getting a state department to actually acknowledge as much.
Altering the detour would actually be quite easy, as a clear alternative exists. Truck traffic could exit 195 just after the Braga Bridge, onto Route 79 North, merging with Route 24 North to Airport Road, where it would reverse direction and head back to 195, picking up the highway west of Government Center. While the approximate four-mile detour would be a greater distance than the current two-mile excursion, traffic would remain on the highway, so it likely would move through the area even more quickly than it does on the often gridlocked city streets.
And it would be much safer.
Safety, of course, is the main motivator here. Tractor-trailer trucks simply should not travel through city streets unless they have to make a delivery. It stands to reason eliminating the steady stream of trucks would allow traffic to flow more easily through the city, easing congestion and decreasing the number of accidents.
MassHighway spokesman Erik Abell said he would check into whether the state department would consider altering the detour. There is no reason why it shouldn’t. City officials should insist upon the change and demand a timeframe for when it would happen. Otherwise, like with anything the state is involved in, another eight years will pass before there is any movement.